The 20 Scariest Horror Films of All Time
Here's Johnny! — with 20 movies that'll scare the living daylights out of you.
'Tis the season to stay up late and be kept up even later by watching ultra-creepy horror flicks to prepare for Halloween. It's hard to pick just 20 favorite films out of an entire genre dedicated to suspense and spooks. From the 1930s all the way to the 2000s, scary movies have spanned the history of filmmaking for a reason: They're addicting to watch, even though you might have to look away from time to time. You might miss some of the gorier details, but as long as you don't miss these 20 movies, you'll be in good shape.
Deeply unsettling, Stanley's Kubrick's horror masterpiece is so much more than cheap scares. Jack Nicholson's standout performance in the film will make you feel like you're slowly going insane, while the layers of metaphorical meaning will keep you guessing (and watching) again and again. Creepy twins, ghost sex, extreme isolation, and psychic powers are just part of it. Chances are the phrase "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" still gives you the chills anytime you hear or read it.
Massive spoiler alert here, but if you haven't seen this film, just go watch it and then read on. Anytime a horror movie goes for the gateway-to-hell plotline, chances are it'll evoke all of those Sunday school lessons you learned as a kid. Add to that the fact that the crew of the Lewis and Clark is trapped in space on the damned ship that shares the movie's title and you've got a real FUBAR situation on your hands. If this movie taught us anything, it's not to mess with the space-time continuum. Trust us, you'll never look at Sam Neill the same way again.
Blair Witch Project
People like to harp on BWP, but the film created a genre of found-footage horror that's somewhere between a snuff film and ghost stories. Go back to the times when you thought it was a actually a true story, and camping will be ruined for you forever. Even knowing it's fake, the odd mythology behind the witch is still so creepy. It takes a pretty special movie to make popping noises, bundles of sticks, and piles of rocks horrifying, and Blair Witch does it. Seriously, though, does anyone know what body part is supposed to be wrapped in Josh's shirt?
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Very, very loosely based on Ed Gein's crimes, this 1970s classic was (and still is) one of the grittiest, most disturbing slasher flicks out there. Made on less than $300,000 with a cast of unknown actors, the low budget just adds to the backwoods realism. Leatherface, the chainsaw-wielding antagonist, is only part of what makes this movie so scary. The whole clan behind him is just as deranged after years of working dirty jobs in middle-of-nowhere Texas slaughterhouses.
Twenty bucks says you just thought of John Williams' iconic score immediately after reading that title. Although the Steven Spielberg film doesn't linger on horror elements long, it effectively builds suspense in a way that makes you question every dip you take in the ocean after seeing the movie. Plus, who doesn't love Quint's USS Indianapolis monologue? Word to the wise, though, definitely don't watch Jaws 3-D or Jaws: The Revenge if you wish to keep the film's premise unsullied.
Sam Raimi is at his best when he's making campy horror, and his campy horror A-game is truly on point in Evil Dead. A very young Bruce Campbell is trapped in a cabin infested with demons and has to fight to not succumb to their evil. Don't feel too bad for him, though. He and his dumb friends should've never played that 1980s Book of the Dead audiobook. Isn't that pretty much rule number one? Well, unlike Jaws, Evil Dead's sequels are both pretty great, too.
You might be so over this Gore Verbinski horror movie, but you can't act like it didn't scare the bejeezus out of you the first time you saw it. Remember the first time you saw Samara crawl out of the TV screen to claim a victim? Yeah. Terrifying. Best of all, the film demonizes something pretty much anyone has in their home, making it haunt you every time you pass the old flat screen. Plus, the only way to escape Samara's curse is to curse someone else. What a witch.
Clive Barker proved his importance to the horror genre with a four-film series called Hellraiser. Solving a puzzlebox seems pretty tame, but turns out that when you do that in Barker's world, you unleash a gaggle of monstrous demons hellbent on some crazy sadomasochistic business. Pinhead and the Cenobites are the stuff nightmares are made of, and the fleshy rematerialization of one of the main characters is totally gross and creepy.
Silence of the Lambs
Hello, Clarice. Guess what. It's another film kind of based on Ed Gein. The odd thing about this scary movie is it's tough to know whom to be afraid of. You can focus your fear on the cross-dressing, human skin suit-wearing Buffalo Bob or on Hannibal Lecter — you know, the guy who wants to eat your innards and even has a wine pairing in mind. It's no wonder this horrifyingly realistic movie inspired prequels, sequels, and even a TV show. The story is the perfect blend of compelling and just plain messed up.
A lot of people prefer Aliens to Alien, but in terms of horror, the first film has the second beat, hands down. Sure, the sequel is more action-packed, but Ridley Scott's first foray into the Alien franchise is suspenseful and surprising. From facehuggers to xenomorphs, there are plenty of nasty aliens courtesy of the twisted mind of H.R. Giger. Most importantly, though, Sigourney Weaver's Ripley is a total badass.
Read on for more truly terrifying horror flicks.
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